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BOOK WHIRL (PART 1)! It’s the law! Naomi Klein’s important new book is being ignored all around: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2007

ONE STEP MORE: We’ll speak later this week about Sunday’s Meet the Press, where the Head Raccoon drug out Sally Bedell Smith to gossip and chat about Hillary Clinton. That said, it would be hard to top this review of the session by Digby, who notes the way the Head Raccoon seems to apply a brand new standard when a lady applies for a spot in the White House instead of the usual gentlemen. That said, we’ll also recommend this second Digby piece. But we’ll suggest that you ask one more question:

Digby quotes the latest statement by Glenn Beck, and asks why CNN employs him. We’ll suggest a second question, one we’ve been asking all along: Crackpots like Beck have been shaping the discourse back (at least) to 1992. They accused both Clintons of a long string of murders—and many voters didn’t know this was madness. They said the Clintons placed obscene Christmas ornaments on the White House Christmas tree. By the late 90s, they were playing along with the mainstream press corps, reciting those lies about Gore.

Our question: Fifteen years later, why does it fall to Digby to ask about the role they play in our discourse? Why have our liberal leaders stayed silent about this insult to the national interest for all these endlessly insulting years? Why was it OK to go on Hardball and call the first lady a murderer? (And of course, a big lesbo.) Why was it completely OK to repeat all those lies about Gore?

Your “liberal journals” sat and stared during fifteen years of this consummate garbage. At the very top of the “mainstream press corps,” so did your most famous “liberal” columnists. (Obvious exception: Paul Krugman.) Beck has now made his latest brain-jangling statement. Our question: Fifteen years later, tell us why it falls to people on the web to notice?

Special report: Book whirl!


PART 1—IGNORING KLEIN: Naomi Klein’s important new book has gotten standard treatment. All around the plutocrat press corps, big news orgs have failed to review it. According to Nexis, it hasn’t been reviewed in the Washington Post—or in the Chicago Tribune, or the Los Angeles Times, or the Boston Globe. But the New York Times has reviewed it twice—and there too, the treatment seems standard.

Let’s consider the more favorable Times review—the Sunday review by Joseph Stiglitz. This review appeared more than three weeks ago, on September 30.

Stiglitz, who figures in Klein’s book at several points, begins with a standard putdown. No, he doesn’t call her a “conspiracy theorist.” (The term “conspiracy” appeared in the headline of the Times’ less favorable review, which had appeared one day earlier.) But that’s the tone of his opening passage, in which he rolls his eyes at Klein—and displays little passion for logic:
STIGLITZ (9/30/07): There are no accidents in the world as seen by Naomi Klein. The destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina expelled many poor black residents and allowed most of the city's public schools to be replaced by privately run charter schools. The torture and killings under Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile and during Argentina's military dictatorship were a way of breaking down resistance to the free market. The instability in Poland and Russia after the collapse of Communism and in Bolivia after the hyperinflation of the 1980s allowed the governments there to foist unpopular economic ''shock therapy'' on a resistant population. And then there is ''Washington's game plan for Iraq'': ''Shock and terrorize the entire country, deliberately ruin its infrastructure, do nothing while its culture and history are ransacked, then make it all O.K. with an unlimited supply of cheap household appliances and imported junk food,'' not to mention a strong stock market and private sector.
There are no accidents in the world as seen by Klein, Stiglitz eye-rolls, failing to wonder at the accident by which he ends up reviewing her book. But then, let’s review the demands of logic, where accident never intrudes. It’s elementary! After so broad an insinuation, Stiglitz will surely want to debunk some causal claim which Klein has conjured; he will want to show us a place where she makes a mountain of an accidental molehill. But this first paragraph offers no such debunking; he merely lists episodes found in Klein’s book—episodes which seem to hold up as simple matters of fact. As a simple matter of fact, “[t]he destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina” did “expel many poor black residents” and did “allow most of the city's public schools to be replaced by privately run charter schools.” But is there a larger story here? More specifically, has Klein over-interpreted such chains of events—chains of events which were really accidental? As he continues, Stiglitz explains Klein’s basic thesis, giving reader a glimpse of her fascinating book—her “history of the last 50 years and the rise of free-market fundamentalism:”
STIGLITZ (continuing directly): ''The Shock Doctrine'' is Klein's ambitious look at the economic history of the last 50 years and the rise of free-market fundamentalism around the world. ''Disaster capitalism,'' as she calls it, is a violent system that sometimes requires terror to do its job. Like Pol Pot proclaiming that Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was in Year Zero, extreme capitalism loves a blank slate, often finding its opening after crises or ''shocks.'' For example, Klein argues, the Asian crisis of 1997 paved the way for the International Monetary Fund to establish programs in the region and for a sell-off of many state-owned enterprises to Western banks and multinationals. The 2004 tsunami enabled the government of Sri Lanka to force the fishermen off beachfront property so it could be sold to hotel developers. The destruction of 9/11 allowed George W. Bush to launch a war aimed at producing a free-market Iraq.
According to Stiglitz, Klein argues this: “The rise of free-market fundamentalism around the world...is a violent system that sometimes requires terror to do its job.” It still isn’t clear what Klein might mean by that, but more examples have now been offered: For example, “the Asian crisis of 1997 paved the way for the International Monetary Fund to establish programs in the region and for a sell-off of many state-owned enterprises to Western banks and multinationals.” And then, of course, there’s that other matter—the matter of what George W. Bush was able to do after 9/11.

When we first read this review of Klein, we were struck by its familiar format. From the standpoint of certain major elites, Klein is presenting an unpleasant view, and—in accordance with Hard Pundit Law—this review must therefore start with an eye-rolling putdown. But as we read further in Stiglitz’ piece, we found ourselves quoting some old Walter Mondale: “Where’s the beef?” we incomparably asked. As he opened, Stiglitz rolled his eyes at Klein, calling to mind the mocking headline from the previous day’s Times review. (“It’s All a Grand Capitalist Conspiracy Theory,” that Saturday headline had said.) But how weird! By the time Stiglitz really dug into Klein’s book, he almost seemed to be agreeing with her—after having dissed her first, as Big Careful Players will do:
STIGLITZ: One of the world's most famous antiglobalization activists and the author of the best seller ''No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,'' Klein provides a rich description of the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries, and of the human toll. She paints a disturbing portrait of hubris, not only on the part of [economist Milton] Friedman but also of those who adopted his doctrines, sometimes to pursue more corporatist objectives. It is striking to be reminded how many of the people involved in the Iraq war were involved earlier in other shameful episodes in United States foreign policy history. She draws a clear line from the torture in Latin America in the 1970s to that at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Good grief! After that obligatory eye-rolling, do you get the feeling that Stiglitz might even agree with the picture Klein paints in her book? “Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one,” Stiglitz, an academic, writes. “There are many places in her book where she oversimplifies.” But by the time he reaches the end of his piece, he almost seems to be arguing against the way his own review started:
STIGLITZ: Some readers may see Klein's findings as evidence of a giant conspiracy, a conclusion she explicitly disavows. It's not the conspiracies that wreck the world but the series of wrong turns, failed policies, and little and big unfairnesses that add up. Still, those decisions are guided by larger mind-sets. Market fundamentalists never really appreciated the institutions required to make an economy function well, let alone the broader social fabric that civilizations require to prosper and flourish. Klein ends on a hopeful note, describing nongovernmental organizations and activists around the world who are trying to make a difference. After 500 pages of ''The Shock Doctrine,'' it's clear they have their work cut out for them.
Stiglitz starts out by rolling his eyes. By the end, is he not agreeing? But that’s a fairly familiar pose in the world of our Big Careful Players. Before you can say that Klein is right, you first have to suggest that she’s crazy. And of course, much better is the strategy taken all over the rest of the mainstream press corps. When someone steps over the line as Klein does, the answer is clear: Don’t review her!

This solution obtained with Fools for Scandal when its author, Gene Lyons, stepped over a line. A somewhat similar solution obtained when Lyons and Joe Conason continued offending with The Hunting of the President. But then, it’s been a big week for book reviews, as Krugman is trashed, and Kurtz is kissed, and Naomi Klein is ignored all around. And as uber-insider Sally B. Smith is drug out to gossip and cluck about Clinton, accompanied by a like-minded group from the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Grand Raccoon Lodge.

Surely, the are no conspiracies here. Just good, solid, first-rate reviewing!

TOMORROW—PART 2: Kissing Kurtz—and razzing Krugman. A quick look at standards of measure.